Ecclesiastes 1:13-18 — The limits of philosophy

It’s the one question that everyone asks.  And it is the one question that can never be answered by human wisdom.  And yet people, intelligent people, wise people all strive to answer that one question.  What is it?


“Why are we here?  Why do people suffer?  Why do people die?  Why is there so much evil in this world?”

People have been asking these questions for centuries.  And for centuries, people have been trying by their own wisdom to answer them.  But there is a problem.  Our own knowledge and wisdom is limited.  And the truth is, there are simply some questions we will never be able to answer because of this.

That’s what Solomon discovered.  He said,

I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven.  What a heavy burden God has laid on men!  I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.  (13-15)

In other words, when Solomon studied the world, he saw all the hurt and brokenness that was there.  And he realized, he had no answers to the whys.  All his wisdom could not heal all the twisted and broken things in the world.  All his wisdom could not fill the emptiness that people feel as they live life.  Ultimately, he could only conclude,

For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief. (18)

And without God, that’s what philosophers are left with.  Because they lack the ability to answer the question why, they can only conclude that life has no meaning, and the evil we see is just the way things is.  The best they can say is to just make the best of things.  Enjoy life while you can, because you never know what will happen tomorrow.  But those words hold neither hope nor healing for anyone.  Ultimately, it leads only to grief and despair.

There is only one person who knows the whys, and that’s God.  He’s the only one who sees not just the individual threads of our lives and the things that we suffer through, but the entire tapestry.  And so it is only in God, that we can find hope in the midst of our suffering.  It’s only in God that we can find hope for our future.

If you want to find hope, you won’t find it in human wisdom or philosophy, because no one on earth can answer the whys.  You can find it only in God who does know the whys.  But ultimately, the question you need to ask yourself is not “Why?”  The question you need to ask yourself is “Will I trust God?  Will I believe he is good in spite of my circumstances?  Will I believe that he cares despite all the tragedy and evil I see in the world?”

Only when you can answer yes to those questions, will you find the hope that you and everyone else in this world longs for.

About bkshiroma

I'm from Hawaii, but have been in Japan as a missionary/English teacher since 1995. I'm currently going to a church called Crossroad Nishinomiya, an international church in Nishinomiya, a city right between Kobe and Osaka. Check out their website: 私がハワイから来ましたけど1995年に宣教師と英会話の教師として日本に引っ越しました。 今西宮にあるクロスロード西宮という国際の教会に行っています。どうぞ、そのホムページを見てください:
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